Wednesday, November 1st

A tribute to Fats, a weird Sixties jam, some notable films, and a rather extraordinary gig…

ONE BEST OPENING PARAGRAPH OF THE WEEK
Amanda Petrusich, The New Yorker, on Fats Domino: “The moments in my life in which I experience the least complicated kinds of joy are usually when I’m listening to a record by a piano player from New Orleans: Jelly Roll Morton, Professor Longhair, Tuts Washington, Champion Jack Dupree, Allen Toussaint, and, especially, Fats Domino. I can’t explain the alchemy – let the biologists map out precisely what happens on a chemical level. It doesn’t matter how leaden or battered I might have been feeling before – how encumbered by my own cynicism, how spiritually ransacked. There’s an exuberance inherent to this music that is purely, mystifyingly transformative. In an instant, everything lightens.”

TWO FATS AND THE BYRDS
Later in the Fats Domino piece, Amanda P, when talking about his first hit, “The Fat Man”, says, “…but I’d still challenge anyone to make it through the bit after the second verse – in which Domino begins to scat in falsetto, approximating the wah-wah-wah sound of a muted Dixieland trumpet – and not be left at least slightly agog. It’s a nonverbal, nonsensical chorus that’s not exactly a chorus, yet is somehow a flawless chorus—effervescent, unexpected, profuse.”

So for lovers of that, I’d recommend this – Domino backed by the Byrds on The Barry Richards Turn On Show (such a title!), one of a number of “free form” TV shows that were on local UHF TV stations around America in the late Sixties. Start at 7 minutes 30 seconds to see Fats teach the Byrds “Walking to New Orleans”. He tells Roger McGuinn to play the two notes that start the song. “No… staccato. Just hit ’em…” and then, satisfied that they at least vaguely understand him, he leads them into the song. Skip Battin (I guess) on drums and Chis Etheridge (I guess again) on bass try to fit into the rolling groove of Fats’ piano, and Clarence White moves over and plays the answer lines back to Fats… “That’s it, three chords, no bridge… no solo”. Fats looks momentarily worried when the tv director asks him if they’re ready to do a take, before Barry wanders back into frame to introduce the song, snapping his fingers to denote that he’s with it. Fats continues the rehearsal until Skip’s got inside the rhythm, then says: “We ready!”

Barry: “Here’s Fats Antoine Domino in a jam with the Byrds, the Byrds, and F– ” at which point Fats cuts him off and starts singing “I’m walking to New Orleans”, the camera shot tight on his extraordinary face. But they’d never rehearsed the ending – after the third verse it trucks along with Fats humming a lovely phrase over and over, while Clarence and Skip answer him before he draws it to a close with a raised arm and a shambling blues ending. It’s really, well, sweet is the only word…

THREE IF YOU’VE GOT TWENTY MINUTES TO SPARE…
Watch Undeniably Donnie, a film about Donny “Flipside” Fritts, whose album from 2015, Oh My Goodness, this short film was made to promote. Kris Kristofferson supplies the narration (“Every morning his hands draw close to the keys of his Wurlitzer piano”) to a wistful and touching portrait of one of the great backroom boys of Alabama music. Known as the Alabama Leaning Man in honour of his totally laidback style – “I’ve only seen him run twice…” says Kris, before adding, “the truth is I’ve never seen him run…”. John Prine, who often recorded in Muscle Shoals, sums Donnie up: “It’s like when you see a character in a movie, and you just feel really close to that one character as the plot develops – usually it’s not the, y’know, main person in the film, it’s a character actor, y’know – and Donnie’s a living, walking character actor…”

FOUR BILL FRISELL: A PORTRAIT

5-frisell richter
On Sunday, I’m hoping that I can get back to the city in time to go to the first London showing of the above film by singer and filmmaker Emma Franz. I’m always transfixed by Bill Frisell’s playing, whether he’s creating soundscapes and atmospherics, or modestly laying out a simple effects-free melody line from an ancient song that speaks to him. His touch is so delicate, yet so intense. If you feel the same way, then there are still some tickets left for the showing at the Curzon Soho this Sunday, November 5th, at 3pm.

Here’s Emma on Bill: “My own life experience includes many years having worked around the world professionally as a musician. I had long been an admirer of Bill Frisell’s music, as he seems to encompass everything that fascinates and excites me about music. In his music, there is individuality and universality, technique and simplicity, diversity, intensity and depth, and the sense of adventure of a child. Bill Frisell has already left a unique stamp on music, been artistically successful and critically acclaimed, yet remains an eternal student; humble, open-minded and constantly self- challenging.” I really like the idea of a musician making this film, and following Bill across his wide-ranging musical life. He’s been quoted as saying: “She got at something that I don’t think anybody’s ever [captured] – you know, it’s about the process, or whatever it is that I [go through]. I felt like you could actually see that.”

FIVE LOREN CONNORS AT CAFE OTO

5-loren2On a screen in a small music venue in Dalston a film is projected. In it a man shuffles around an apartment, struggling to free a record from its packaging. As he bends over you see a scar from some surgery running up his neck and into his hairline. The music that comes from the record when he drops the needle onto it is distant, ethereal, delicate, and distorted. Appalachian Blues, I wonder? Maybe Widescreen American Western Music? The man shuffles through drawings, hundreds of drawings, and hundreds more photocopies. He lays rolls of paint-splashed paper down on the floorboards of an apartment as the ghostly sounds play. That’s my introduction to Loren Connors’ world. The film is, appropriately, called Gestures. Then Connors walks on stage with a cane and a three-quarter sized student model Stratocaster (a Squier Mini, Fender’s diffusion line), sits down and starts a swirling, shifting piece. I’m transfixed. He builds walls of sound and then coaxes up tiny notes that sit on top, all the while using minimal chord shapes and flickering fingers to brush the strings. At times it’s angry and buzzing, but the impression I’m left with is a subtle and mesmerising beauty.

I’m there with Calum. I was saying that I’d never been to Cafe OTO, so Calum kindly gets us tickets for something coming up that he thinks I’d enjoy, and he’s spot-on. He last saw Connors years ago, when his hair was long and draped over his face when he played. Now he looks like one of Christopher Guest’s ensemble players, straight out of A Mighty Wind or Best in Show. At some point in the 45 minute performance, Loren’s partner, Suzanne Langille, starts reciting  a Keats ballad – La Belle Dame sans Merci – “And this is why I sojourn here/Alone and palely loitering/Though the sedge is withered from the lake/And no birds sing.” It’s alternately beguiling and creepy, which is, I think, its intended effect. It ends to wild applause. Loren sits back down, plays for another minute (an encore?) and that’s it. Brilliant.

5-loren

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Comments

  1. 5 minutes of Loren Connors’ at Oto in 2011 are here:

    Worth a look and a listen…

  2. I saw the Bill Frisell film at SXSW, Martin, and, as you suggest, it’s well worth catching, for many reasons… yet if only to see footage of two figures who were vastly influential on and important to Bill – Jim Hall and Paul Motian – but are sadly no longer with us.

  3. Good to hear, Philip. I think independent films about musicians must be so hard to make, they need our support. Maybe BBC4 will decide to buy it…

    • Off to buy Invisible Jukebox! And how do I follow you on WordPress, Philip?

      • Well, talking of Invisible Jukebox, Martin… do you know this Tumblr site: http://invisible-jukebox.tumblr.com? It is, rather extraordinarily, “an archival project” that “attempts to recreate the soundtracks that accompanied those interviews [in The Wire]”. There are several included on the site that I conducted, way back in the 1990s, including Elvis Costello, Jack Bruce, Ali Farka Touré, Lester Bowie and Paul Weller. Many of the interviews were collected in an Invisible Jukebox anthology published by The Wire/Quartet (again way back in 1998). Some others (Kate and Anna McGarrigle, John Harle, Leon Redbone, for example) are up on my website, http://www.philipwatson.info. PS Have replied here using my WordPress account.

    • I totally agree, Martin. You’ll discover if you make the screening and Q&A, but I know from talking to Emma Franz that it took her many years of hard labour, challenging financing and tough music licence fees. She worked largely on her own, as producer/director/editor/writer etc, and she’s to be applauded for even completing the film.

  4. Re The Byrds line up I think it’s Skip Battin on bass and Gene Parsons on drums. An excellent clip mind you.

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